Retirement Transition and Change

“Help When Change Is Hard” by Bev Scott

By May 10, 2010 No Comments

Listening to one of our workshop participants lament how many times she had tried to diet and exercise, I thought about the entertaining yet extremely helpful book by the Heath brothers, Chip and Dan, titled Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Clearly for her, “change was hard”! And without changing her habits, she risks losing out on her 30 year bonus for her 3rd Act! I find the formula the authors use to be insightful in understanding why change is so hard for us at any age. Let me share it with you.

First of all, the heart and mind frequently disagree. Adamantly! Our brain has two independent systems at work all the time: the emotional side and the rational side. The Heaths use an analogy originally proposed by psychologist Jonathan Haidt to capture the tension between the two systems of our brain. The emotional side is an Elephant and the rational side is its Rider. Although the Rider perched on the Elephant holding the reins looks like the leader in control, that control is pretty insecure because any time the Rider and the Elephant disagree about which way to go, the Rider is going to lose…he or she is completely out matched. If you want to change something, you have to reach both the Rider who provides the planning and direction and the Elephant who provides the energy.

As the book unfolds, the Heaths provide a three-part framework to guide any change situation, personal or organizational. We must Direct the Rider: Give crystal-clear direction. Motivate the Elephant: Since the Rider gets exhausted from trying to get his/her way, it is critical to engage the emotional side to get the elephant to cooperate. Shape the Path: The surrounding environment is considered the Path. When we shape the Path, change is more likely.

We can direct the Rider based on what works for us and by providing precise directions with clear boundaries. For example, if you analyze your past experience and identify that you are more likely to exercise in the morning than later in the day, clear Rider directions are: Exercise every morning by taking a 30 minute walk before 7:00 a.m. The foundation for motivating the Elephant comes from feeling. Knowledge of nutrition and health isn’t enough to motivate a change of diet. Finding positive feeling is more motivational than negative feeling. And, the Elephant has to believe that she is capable of conquering the change. So we might focus on future elation of being able to climb easily up a mountain on a hike or get into a sexy outfit. But we have to believe we can do it. Change happens in small increments; the Heaths call it shrinking the change. An example might be that we begin changing our diet by eliminating chips from our daily afternoon snack. With success, then we can move to eating whole wheat toast instead of croissants and muffins in the morning. We have motivated the Elephant with small successful steps which help us believe we can change and live into that image of climbing the mountain or the sexy outfit.

But for us to be successful in sticking to that change, the Heaths argue that we must also Shape the Path. Tweaking the environment provides additional support for the hard change. Using smaller plates and bowls means smaller portions. Never eat snack food directly out of the bag; pour a small amount into a small plate or bowl. Get your exercise clothes out the night before ready to jump into them in the morning. Another tool of Shaping the Path is building habits in service to your change mission. Create a time for your exercise program that you can meet every day. Develop a habit of eating a fruit or vegetable snack between meals. And a final tool, rally support…hang out with fit and trim friends, get to know folks at the gym, walk with a buddy every day.

This clever formula can help us make the hard changes we need to make as we transition from our 2nd to our 3rd act. Hard change becomes possible. We need clear direction to change the habits and routines of our familiar 2nd Act. We need to take the small steps and develop new habits that support the vision of joy, health and happiness of our 3rd Act. Those changes may be related to exercise and diet to ensure our health and vitality. Or it may be cultivating social connections unrelated to our former work and professional lives by making room on the calendar for one outing a month with an acquaintance. Here is to your success with hard changes in directing your Rider, motivating your Elephant and shaping your Path!

See to order the book.

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